Opinion: One for the road

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy
I have decided to go to print one last time regarding the legend that is Maurcio Pochettino.
I find myself in a bizarre situation. It could be likened to a scenario where you’ve been on holiday to the same place every year for the last 5 years.
The last few years haven’t been so good but you’ve still been enjoying it. You had some amazing days out this year but this just hid the fact that the accommodation was now looking very tired and you’d seen all of the sights. Some treasured memories to look back on but sadly not somewhere you’ll return to.
While I appreciate that with 4 wins out of 5 under the ‘changed one’ I should be looking forward not back there is still one thing nagging away at me.
Did the players truly ‘stop playing for the manager?’
Fans often accuse players of this when form and in some cases commitment seem to drop off a cliff.
This theory was further backed up by Everton’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend with caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson ‘at the wheel’.  Was it a coincidence that the players made more tackles than during any other game this season?
Putting it in a real life scenario if your work relationship with your manager breaks down you may feel less inclined to check your emails at a weekend or stay late in the office. 
However, with the vast sums of money that the players earn they should be running through brick walls every time they take to the pitch. If not for the manager then for their own pride and not least for the people that pay vast sums to watch them every week.
If I walked off the pitch on a Sunday morning feeling I hadn’t given it my best shot I was devastated. Surely part of being a sportsman at any level?
Taking Rugby as a prime example, any drop in commitment could result in injury to you are your team mates. As a result you dont see this strange scenario played out on the rugby pitch.
Chelsea players have perhaps had this accusation levelled at them more than most with the suspicion that players ‘downed tools’ under both Sarri and Jose. You also had the high profile falling out between Willian and Antonio Conte, culminating with Willian photo shopping Conte out of the FA Cup winning picture on his Instagram account!
Maybe it’s a generation thing? Players getting too much too soon? Maybe they would be more humble if they had been brought up cleaning the boots of senior Pros while on an apprentice wage? 
While he had differences with players (notably Jimmy Greaves towards the end) would players have really got away with or indeed even have it in them to stop playing for the likes of Bill Nicholson or Bill Shankley? I cant see it.
I would prefer to give players the benefit of the doubt and focus instead on why the performance levels drop off.
I have spoken before about football at the highest level being about the finest of margins.
In the case of Poch it was clear that the players held him in the highest esteem. A string of visits to his house after his dismissal together with a number of emotional tweets demonstrated this.
A huge amount of thanks for the manager who helped shape a number of their careers I’m sure tinged with guilt that their performances hadn’t been enough to keep him in a job.
A number of players have now tweeted their pride in playing for a coach such as Mourinho and how in Lucas Moura’s case he is now playing in the correct position.  All very understandable given they are playing for their careers and trying to avoid the Jose axe, and I don’t believe disrespectful to Poch.
I’ve gone to print before about the reasons for Spurs decline in the now infamous 24 games spreading this season and last.
Contract issues undoubtedly played a part with ‘the Dane who shall remain nameless’ clearly losing that cutting edge either consciously or sub consciously. This coupled with the fact that those on the bench (committed to the Club) clearly frustrated to lose their place to those that vocally weren’t.
Then there is the curious case of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Two footballers who form a great partnership for both club and country but both losing form at the same time.
There has definitely been an up turn in their performances since the new manager arrived (although unlike the Dane their commitment on the pitch under Poch wasn’t in question)
I personally love the position that Jan is playing. A hybrid of left back/left centre back is just made for him.
I guess only time will tell as to whether the autumn of their careers will be spent at Tottenham.
I believe that training may have played a part with the same players not able to train to the same intensity that Poch demanded 5 years ago. Also it must be difficult to keep things fresh just as it would if a teacher taught the same class 5 years running.
Then theres the summer signings. Yes there was a large splurge by Daniel Levy but the 160m of talent either arrived ‘late’ were injured or both.
Finally the controversial point. Had Poch simply grown too close to the players that meant when a firmer hand was needed at a time of crisis he just didnt possess this skill?
Sir Alex Ferguson was a master in being able to manage these situations, albeit often resulting in high profile departures irrespective of who the player was and how good they were.
I feel that in Mourinho we have another manager who does have this in his locker. At the same time though I am enjoying his attempts at bonding with the players. His retrieval of the match ball to mark Troy Parrott’s debut being a great example of the charm offensive.
Time will tell if Mourinho can truly ‘get a tune’ out of the experienced squad.  I suspect over time he will face similar issues to those of Poch if squad rebuilds / refreshes can’t be delivered quickly and decisively.
One thing is for sure is that Mourinho has certainly sprinkled his magic dust on Moussa Sissoko. Goals in consequence home games putting him firmly ahead of Steffan Freund in the clubs all time list of goalscorers.
Add to this the renaissance of Serge Aurier and Dele Alli then the future does look brighter.
Unfortunately this article has probably raised more questions than it answers. 
Normally I would say we will never know the answers but as Jose likes to tell us with a glint in his eye, we will have to wait for the documentary!

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  1. Whether or not Mourinho breaks our eleven-year trophy duck, and/or gets top four, the simple fact is that we’d been in a downward spiral for two years under Pochettino, the CL final being a total fluke, and he had to go – end of! I struggle to believe that City are seriously interested in him, given his generally poor transfer record and inability to cope with the ego of star players, of the type City expect to see in their team – I seriously think West Ham would be a better fit for him, but with twelve million quid in his back pocket, he doesn’t need to sign-on just yet, does he?


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